Wednesday, June 29, 2016

But, did you get in trouble for doing that?

The Question that Stopped Me in My Tracks

Dear Readers,

I am going to tell you a story. Think about what your initial, gut reaction would be. Please be honest with yourself. 

Visualize this......

It was the 2nd day of 1st grade and I intentionally missed the bus. As I walked home, I thought I had just solved my problem of not wanting to go to school. To my dismay, my mother put me in the car and drove me to the elementary school. Upon entering the main office, I was met by my principal, the nurse and my 1st grade classroom teacher. I started to cry and threw myself on the floor. The nurse told my mother to leave me, that they would "handle" me. Reluctantly, she left. The staff was unable to convince me to walk independently to the classroom and consequently I was picked up and carried across the hall. This resulted in me wrapping my little 6 year old fingers around the door frame so they were unable to get me into the room.

What thoughts and/or assumptions would you make about this child?
How would you, as an educator, handle this situation?

Personal Narrative Writing in 6th Grade

As a literacy teacher, I use this to write alongside my 6th graders during our personal narrative writing unit. I have used it for 3 years. I share it for several reasons.
  • It helps me build relationships when I share personal stories.
  • It allows me to model and go through the writing process with them.
  • It allows those that do not like school to have a connection to an adult who did not like school.
  • It is the reason I became a teacher.
The Revision Process

The 2nd year I wrote this story (2014-2015), I changed how I went through the revision process. I told the story purposely making me sound like, what some might consider, a defiant and difficult child. We were talking about what story we really want to tell to our readers (Thank you Units of Study!) and I decided that was not the story I wanted to tell. I revised my story and told the story of a young girl who was anxious about school and had anxiety about going. 

The Question That Stopped Me in My Teaching Tracks

This year (2015-2016) was the 3rd year I shared this story. One student asked me the question that changed my mindset.

"But, did you get in trouble for doing that?"

Aha-Moment! This question spoke volumes to me about what students are thinking and adults are modeling.
  • Why would the student automatically assume I would get in trouble?
  • What are we modeling for students?
  • What assumptions are students making based on adult actions and words?
  • Is this how our students view those that have social/emotional needs?
I immediately had a heart to heart talk with that class about my anxiety as a child and the fear of going to school. I assured them I did not get in trouble and we talked about the signs of anxiety I showed. Then I explained why I became a teacher. It was an extremely eye-opening experience for me.

It made me reflect on other school experiences that I remember like they happened yesterday. (Just to give a time frame, I am currently 39 years old, so this was in the early 80's.)

Violin Lessons

I vividly remember sitting in one of my violin lessons (I played from 3rd-12th grade) and being overwhelmed. I just burst into tears and cried for most of the lesson. The teacher tried to get me to participate, but eventually gave up. At the end of the lesson I was sent back to class. It was never acknowledged. 

How would you, as an educator, handle this situation?

Forgotten Binder

I had left my binder at home and was sent to the nurse's office to call home. As soon as I heard my mother's voice, I burst into tears. The simple act of forgetting my binder was too much for me to handle. When I hung up, I was sent back to class. It was never acknowledged. 

How would you, as an educator, handle this situation?

Looking at the Whole Child

I am not sure how these scenarios would have played out differently in today's academic world. I do know we have to look at the whole child and that includes social/emotional needs. In order for a student to be successful in school, he/she needs to feel like part of a supportive, caring, safe environment. How do we meet the needs of children who suffer from such extreme anxiety as I did?

  • We cannot make assumptions about children based on behavior. We need to look at what is causing that behavior. Why is the child acting like that? 
  • We need to accept all children for who they are. Those with social/emotional needs may need us more than any other students. How do we make connections with these students?
  • We need to observe and listen to our students. Are there patterns we notice? 
  • We need to collaborate and talk to our colleagues just like we would about instruction.
  • We need to teach students strategies for dealing with social/emotional needs. 
  • We need to be extremely careful and aware of what message is being sent to other students. How do we react as adults when a child is in crisis?
Building Connections

 Luckily for me, I have the experience of growing up and living with anxiety. I sincerely understand what some students go through. I can make authentic connections with them. 
  • I have always carried Worry Dolls with me. As a child I slept with them under my pillow and even as an adult they are everywhere (my home, my purse, my desk). I had a student this past year who suffered from anxiety. I purchased some dolls for her and explained what they were and what I used them for. She just lit up when I gave them to her. Hopefully they have found a place under her pillow or in her bag.
  • I worked with a student 1:1 when he was a 5th grader. This particular student had difficulty getting to school, staff would often have to get him out of the car. However, when we started reading and writing together, he would always make it for my time with him. As a result, I watched him read for the 1st time. We developed a great teacher-student collaboration where he obviously felt I provided a safe and supportive learning environment.
  • In middle school, relationships (especially between girls) can be tremendously difficult. I have had my fair share of tears in my classroom. However, I never send them away without talking about what's bothering them first and then checking in with them later that day or the next morning.
  • I have also had the experience of students bursting out into tears in class. I quickly guide them to the door and pull them outside to privately ask what is wrong. 99.9% of the time, they tell me, go to the restroom to regroup and head back into class. They just need a moment with a caring adult who wants to understand.
  • There really is no topic I am uncomfortable with. Students need to know we are there for them, regardless of what they are dealing with. Some controversial topics that people seem to shy away from or feel uncomfortable with are eating disorders, depression, cutting or suicide, to name a few. We have to know our own limitations and comfort levels as educators. If we cannot handle talking to a student about a particular topic or issue, we must know where to ask for help. We must never make the student feel ashamed about coming to us.
Final Thoughts

Just like students have academic strengths and difficulties, they have social/emotional strengths and difficulties. We must be sensitive to that. Our students need to feel safe, supported and cared for before learning can begin.

I share this personal blog with you, in the hope that it helps you understand your students in a different light. I never had any connection to school, in fact I barely remember my teachers or learning experiences. All I ever thought was, "I want out of here!" Now, I love my job and going to school every day. Even more, I love that I am making a difference in my students' lives.